Archives for February 2012

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

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You have been told since your youth that “practice makes perfect.” What you have been told is wrong. In reality practice only makes permanent. Or maybe more accurately practice makes less forgettable. On the other hand, perfect practice does make perfect (or closer to perfect at least). The real difference is that a deliberate effort to practice every repetition correctly will make it easier to perform correct repetitions. But practice crappy technique and you’ll only achieve “perfection” at crappy technique.

Annie Murphy Paul wrote a great article on this myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect’. She points out how you must be deliberate in your practice, or you shouldn’t bother practicing at all. If you are not deliberate, you end up working only on your strengths. Good practice will involve self-evaluation and a targeting of those things you perform poorly to bring them up to snuff.

The best pianists, they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. “It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists,” Duke notes. “But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.”

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This little tidbit about pianists can be directly applied to almost anything. Especially combatives training. When we find weaknesses in what we are doing, we should put a little extra effort into trying to address those weaknesses. It reminds me very much of the old adage about the beginner training until he gets it right, and the expert training until he doesn’t get it wrong.

I have been applying the same theory in my own training. My reloads have been slow and unwieldy, so I have been putting a lot of time and effort into streamlining them. What I have found is that when I make a major mistake, slowing down and really focusing on the correct way to do what I screwed up is a good way to help get over the speed bump and hopefully prevent the mistake from coming back.

To me, deliberate practice comes down to a focus issue. Some people practice a lot. They might spend hours every day practicing, but without laser sharp focus on what you are doing in order to make every rep perfect, you are doing two things. First, you are building a very well practiced bad habit. Every bad rep you practice is one more rep to fight against when you need to go back and break your bad habit. The other thing you are doing is wasting time.

Twenty minutes of deliberate practice is worth far more than twenty hours of halfhearted crap practice.

The take away message from all of this is that shorter, more focused training sessions are probably more ideal than long, aimless ones. Have a plan when you practice, and make the session short enough that you can focus on every rep.

Do you practice deliberately?

4 Tips For Breaking Bad Habits Before They Break You

I’m not talking about smoking, nail biting, overeating, or any other common bad habit in life. I’m talking about the bad habits that have formed in our technique or our training practices.

Image by Charles & Clint

We fight like we train, so everything we do under the pressure of a real fight becomes an automatic reaction. Your automatic response to an attack will be exactly what you have practiced the most in reaction to that stimulus. If you practiced the best possible response perfectly, you have nothing to worry about. But if you practiced something that is ineffective, wrong, or just different than your ideal response, you now have a habit to break.

Breaking habits that we have created through training can be similar to breaking other habits we develop in life, but there are some key differences.

 1. You need to practice the correct method 2 or 3 times the number of reps you have practiced incorrectly.

Every bad repetition you have ever done will count against you. The longer you have been practicing the incorrect technique, the harder it will be to fix it. If you truly want to break a habit and replace it with a new one, you need to practice this new skill 2 or 3 times as much as you have practiced what you are trying to replace.

This is a daunting task and will require a significant commitment. If you have been practicing something long enough, you should determine if the habit is even worth trying to replace. If your habit is something you can live with, it might be easier to avoid change all together.

But don’t shy away from breaking a bad habit just because it is old. Doing something wrong for a long time doesn’t mean you have been practicing it every day. I’ve heard this excuse numerous times teaching people to shoot rifles. Holding a rifle a certain way for twenty years doesn’t mean you practiced it that way every day for those twenty years. Suck it up and make the change because you are wrong, and the habit is correctable.

On the other hand, the skills I am practicing in my dry fire routine will probably become permanent over the next 20 years of daily practice. I must make sure I am constantly course correcting so I don’t make a habit of the wrong thing.

 2. Consistency is key

The more consistent you are in your practice, the easier the change will be. Inconsistency has two problems. First, it will make reprogramming your habits take longer. Second, it can result in confusion. Your body automatically responds how it has been trained to. Having more than one response trained and “at the ready” can lead to confusion as to which to do when a situation demands an immediate reaction. Merging two reactions in one is never a good thing.

 3. Make it conscious

 In order to do something consistently correctly, we need to make it a conscious effort. This breaks the automatic process by which our body normally reacts. By actively thinking about what we are doing, we can change it. Without consciously attempting to make this change, we will instead end up falling back into our old habit, preventing the correction we are trying to make.

 4. Start slow

Part of making something conscious is to start slow. Slow down your repetitions so you can control every aspect of the movement. You want to make every little detail of what you are doing perfect. Anything less than perfect will create more bad habits that will need to be broken. Practice in itself does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. Practice only makes permanent. Get every rep right.

Breaking habits is a difficult proposition. If it was easy, hardly anyone would smoke, people wouldn’t overeat, and everyone’s draw stroke would be perfect. Habits can form very easily, but they are exponentially harder to break as time goes on. The best way to break a bad habit is to avoid creating it in the first place. Failing that, take the above advice and keep going. Forming new habits is just a matter of time.

Have you formed any habits in training you are trying to break?

Breathe Like Your Life Depends On It

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Do you breathe?

Breathing is a part of everything we do, from Sudoku to weightlifting.  In some activities, how we breathe is far more important than in others. Breathing a certain way will generally not improve your performance in Sudoku, but it is absolutely crucial when you hit the weights.

In the realm of self-defense, breathing is always very important. Most martial systems put a strong emphasis on how and when to breathe. Marksmanship for both pistols and rifles relies on a slight respiratory pause prior to breaking the shot.

 One thing that often gets overlooked in most self-defense circles is how your breathing impacts your state of mind. When you breathe in, your mind and body tends to be in a weak state. When you breathe out it is in a strong state.

 Inhaling causes your lungs to fill with air. Your center of gravity rises, and your mind is less focused. Your reaction times will be slower than if you are exhaling.

 Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? This can only happen when you are full of air. This is yet another reason that we want to spend less time breathing in.

 We naturally tend to breathe in when we are startled. You have probably experienced this walking around a corner and crashing into someone, or reaching for a door handle as someone walks through from the other side. You are startled, you breathe in, and your mind scrambles to recover and regain control of the situation.

 In the office, being startled like this has relatively little cost to our well-being other than a bruised ego perhaps. On the other hand, reacting this poorly to being startled on the street could be the fine line that separates life and death.

 To combat this, we want to build a reaction of exhaling when startled.

 Practice exhaling

 Practice responding with an out breath on some sort of stimulus. When you exhale, you want it to be controlled and forceful. Think of this as an immediate dump of all extra oxygen in your lungs. There is a finite beginning, middle, and an end to our breath. It should end abruptly.


 Once you have some practice with this type of breathing, a great way to reinforce this is on the street or in the office. I used to work in an office building that had many blind corners, and plenty of people who would always cut these corners closely, even on the “wrong side” of the “road”. This led to many startling near-collisions and created the perfect environment to practice reacting calmly. When startled in this type of situation, an out breath and some smooth footwork allows you to regain your composure and continue on unimpeded.

Training your body to react calmly and decisively when startled will improve your likelihood of survival on the street. Most of the time you can avoid the situation entirely by being aware of your surroundings. When this isn’t possible, how you react to the unexpected can be the difference between life and death.

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